Tool Recommendations

From Garrett Hack

The school has a whole kit of the necessary tools for you to use, and others in the shop. But I feel strongly that if you are going to be serious about working wood, you need some good tools. You’ll better understand how they work, how to tune them, and how to keep them sharp.

These are the essentials.

#4 Bench plane.

You might like a heftier #4-1/2, a slightly longer #5, or a smaller #3, but get one good plane of this size. Lie Nielsen, Clifton, or Lee Valley (LV) are all good choices, as is an older Stanley if you are willing to put in the hours tuning it. For the Stanley buy a replacement iron (Hock or Lie Nielsen). If you were to bring 2 planes, a #5 size would be useful. Both LN and Lee Valley make very nice low angle planes in this size (#62 LN).

Block Plane

I think very highly of the Lie Nielsen #60-1/2 low angle block plane. They also make a #102 that is nice, as does Lee Valley (they call it an “apron plane”. Most of the older Stanley’s will work, but not as sweetly. If you are going to buy one new tool for yourself, make it the LN low angle #60-1/2. 

Chisels

A set of at least 5 sizes chisels — 1⁄4”, 3⁄8”, 1⁄2”, 3⁄4”, 1” Most any will do if the steel is good and the handles suit you. Inexpensive and good are the Ashley Iles bench chisels (the shorter ones) sold by toolsforworkingwood.com. Look on the web for TheBestThings.com, as they have quite a  selection of chisels. LN and LV are fine. Flea market chisels might be great, and Japanese chisels are also worth trying if they interest you. 

Mallet

Round or square for driving your chisels, or a brass hammer if you prefer.

Square

A 6” or 12” is fine. If you are going to buy a good square only once, a Starrett is hard to beat but not inexpensive.

Bevel gauge

Most are okay, old or new, wood or iron. Older Stanleys and the Veritas (LV, with the lever lock) are good. A  6” or longer blade is usually more useful than a short one. Most important is that the blade locks securely.

Marking knife

Just a knife. Pencil too.

Mortising or marking gauge

Marking gauges have a single pin (best if honed to a tiny knife), mortising gauges two. Some gauges do both — the beam has two pins on one side (one adjustable) and one on the other. Brass wear plates or fancy rosewood aren’t as important as a gauge that feels good in your hand (balanced) and the fence locks positively.

Shoulder rabbet plane

For fitting shoulders and sizing tenons or small rabbets. My favorite is the medium sized Clifton #440, but it’s costly. The LV medium sized shoulder plane is excellent and a good value. An older Stanley #93 can be tuned to work very well and it can be disassembled into a chisel plane, so you get two planes in one. 

A bullnose shoulder rabbet with a very short sole ahead of the blade is a specialized tool and not the best choice for adjusting a tenon shoulder. The Lie-Nielsen rabbet block plane will also work, but not as well as a shoulder plane. 

Card scraper

(Or the #80 cabinet scraper if you prefer) — I like thicker scrapers (like the Bahco 474 with .032” thickness) over the very flexible thin ones. One should last nearly a lifetime. This is a tool you should know how to sharpen and use effectively.

Fine toothed dovetail or small backsaw

Inexpensive saws are fine, such as the KUNZ or CROWN, once tuned. Straight handled “Gent’s saw” or “D” type handle work equally well. Lie-Nielsen and others make fine saws with shapely handles, only they are costly. Old saws can be wonderful and sharpened to work better than new. Buy a saw that feels good (balanced), that cuts smoothly and makes a fine kerf. 

Mill file and round chain saw file.

We’ll use them to make scratchstocks. Any size fine, but not worn out. 

Straight edge

I true a piece of nice straight-grained hardwood, but also rely on a 24” steel rule to check for twist and flatness. 

Sharpening Stones

I could write a whole letter about this subject alone. Bring what you use, whatever it is. There are some stones at the school for you to use, but bringing your own stones (if you can) is better. You’ll learn how to maintain YOUR stones and what they are capable of. The Norton set of waterstones, Kings, Shaptons, and probably any other high quality man made waterstone will be fine, as will oil stones if you lean this way. A thick steel diamond flattening plate made for maintaining your stones is worth the investment (DMT is one maker). Ideally you need stones roughly in this range of grits: 

  • A coarse stone about 320-1000 grit 
  • a medium stone 1000 - 1500 grit
  • a fine stone 4000 grit
  • and a very fine stone 8000 grit or higher

OPTIONAL ITEMS:

Longer Plane

Any bench plane longer than your #4 or similar size. This could be a #5, #6, #7, or #8. This tool will be useful for truing long edges or surfaces.

Smooth Plane

Eventually, if you are serious about using planes, you will want a dedicated smooth plane. Some possibilities: Your #4 tuned as a smoother, a #4-1/2 , a Lee Valley low angle smoother, or older wooden coffin shaped smoother, or if you want to go really big time, a new smoother from a one-off maker. 

Spokeshave

I use many spokeshaves, mainly for shaping curves. The older Stanley #53 and #54 are my favorites. LN also makes some, as does LV. The heavier bodied “Boggs” shaves are the best of these.

Calipers.

Machinist calipers or vernier calipers as some know them. They are useful for sizing parts. I often use an old Stanley rule with a caliper end. 

That’s all you really need, but bring other tools if you have them and think you would like to use them.